I Got Id
A little strange to be calling this one a Pearl Jam song, at least as it appears on the two-song Merkinball accompaniment to Neil Young’s Mirrorball. The studio lineup on that track consisted of Vedder, drummer Jack Irons, Neil Young, and Brendan O’Brien on bass. No Ament, Gossard, or McCready. And maybe for this reason, it feels to me perhaps the quintessential Ed Vedder song, and what I would selfishly hope a solo Vedder album to sound like. Of course, “I Got Id” (or “I Got Shit”–whichever you prefer) wouldn’t be what it is without not only the presence but the influence of Young Neil, so maybe I just really want Ed Vedder to be like Neil Young. One of my other very favorite Pearl Jam songs is Vedder’s “MFC”–not one of his Young-ian moments, so this issue is perhaps better explored when we get to that one.
Pearl Jam’s respect and love for Neil Young and his music was evident almost from the start, most notably the band’s frequent cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World”. Then, once the original Mookie Blaylock demos had been worked through, and the funk and metal references phased out in favor of more punk, garage, and other influences, songs like “Corduroy” and especially “Immortality” proved that rust still hadn’t fallen asleep. Their collaboration on Young’s Mirrorball was exciting, but perhaps suffered somewhat due to expectations that Vedder’s voice would be featured more prominently than it ended up being. But Young, Vedder, and the rest of the band all understood that the project would end up a completely different beast if Ed sang even one lead.
Still, the world was exceptionally fortunate to have Merkinball, two Vedder compositions, recorded during the same sessions in much the same fashion, and packaged in the same cardboard w/ black ‘n’ white photography. “Long Road” is worth a few thousand words on its own for adding an important new dimension to Pearl Jam’s sound. But “I Got Id” –how can I write about this song and not be effusive? It feels like I’m effusive about every song (well, almost), how can I stress that I feel this is one of the best, if not the very best, much less prove it?
Well first, to compensate for the fact that studio version only contains 1/5 of the current lineup, I will say that the live version lives up to its counterpart as a slightly quicker, more forceful arrangement, with McCready and Gossard more than capable of adding their own personalities to the vibe laid down by Young. But I hold a deeply special place in my heart for the Merkinball version, which I stayed awake late into the night listening to the radio for, prior to its release, almost desperate to hear it. To me, the worst songs any band or solo artist can write are the ones that you can almost picture them writing. You can feel the effort and self-consciousness in every detail. The best songs are those that feel elemental, as if they’ve always existed, or grown right out of the soil fully formed. “I Got Id” is one of those songs. And while Young’s influence was evident before (“Immortality”) and after (“Off He Goes”), “I Got Id” still feels like a singular event.
Parsing out the basic chords, it’s evident that the progression is one of Vedder’s most perfect constructions towards eliciting the right emotions from listeners. The first half of each verse plays around both the major and minor forms of D, which is perfect for creating an unstable, melancholy effect. Then the band kicks into a section beginning with Bm, the minor 6th of D. The minor 6th in any chord progression is generally the darkest, saddest sounding chord–but what’s interesting in the key of D, at least on the guitar, is that you’re holding that chord higher up on the fretboard. So the notes get higher, even though the emotional quality gets darker. In “I Got Shit”, this produces a mini-climax, the song dropping down to its lowest point before the chorus even kicks in. This is also where Vedder sings (one of his finest performances on record, I might add), “I got memories / I got shit / So much it don’t show,” and I for one just feel utterly swallowed by the moment every time.
The chorus is mostly major chords–which in different circumstances and progressions, usually sound a lot sunnier. Here however, they just add to the autumnal, stormy mood, making the lines “Oh I walked the line / When you held my hand that night” so bittersweet, more poignant than they appear on the page. That is what a great chord progression can do for a lyricist–enhance their words, add different color and perspective to them. For me, nowhere is the partnership between music and lyric more effortless or effective than on “I Got Id”. If my music theory’s a little suspect, or boring–please forgive. I find it a lot more interesting to try to investigate the nuts and bolts of why I think some songs are objectively great, than to explore my ever-changing personal feelings and associations with them. Needless to say, this is one song I could write multiple posts on from several different angles. Maybe once I’ve covered everything else, I’ll come back and re-look at what songs I think are the most essential. If I do–expect this one to be right there at or near the top.